Blogs > Cliopatria > NIV, TNIV, and Ephesians 5

Feb 21, 2005 2:50 pm

NIV, TNIV, and Ephesians 5

Lauryn at Feministing draws our attention to this article in the Saturday Washington Post about Zondervan's scheduled publication of the complete Today's New International Version of Holy Scripture.  (The New Testament version appeared three years ago, and was created with much hue and cry by some conservatives for its embrace of gender-neutral language.)

The favorite bible of American Christian conservatives seems to be the New International Version, or NIV.  (I know, for those who don't spend a lot of ime around the various translations, the acronyms can be overwhelming.  Lots of talk about KJV, NKJV, NLT, NASB, NEB, NRSV, and so forth.  It makes seminary students sound like traders on the NASDAQ.)    When I go to college bible studies with Intervarsity or Campus Crusade kids, their favorite translation is almost always the NIV, and they all love the red-letter study version.  I have a copy as well, though I regularly consult the King James (of course), and the old favorite of Episcopalians and other mainlines, the New Revised Standard Version.

If you want to compare all these without running off to a bookstore, use Bible Gateway; it's a great tool.  Of course, it leans right, and thus excludes the NRSV.  The NRSV online can be found here.

But gosh, the NIV promotes a conservative understanding of marriage in some remarkably indefensible ways.  My favorite example is from Ephesians chapter 5.  Here it is in the NIV version.  Note the heading "Husbands and Wives" between verses 21 and 22.  As any New Testament scholar will tell you, these subject headings are not in the original texts!  If you read the radical egalitarianism of verse 21, you can see how desperate social conservatives might be to separate it from the subsequent verses.    "Submit to one another" seems to have far more to do with the verses following it than with those preceding it.  Yet taken seriously, it would place the subsequent verses into a very different light indeed.  Thus the NIV (and other conservative translations) created an artificial separation to avoid the suggestion that husbands might have to practice mutual submission with their wives.

If the heading "Husbands and Wives" belongs anywhere, it bloody well belongs one verse earlier than it appears in the NIV.  Its placement after verse 5:21 is a none-too-subtle attempt to twist Paul into what he certainly isn't: a defender of hierarchical, patriarchal marriage. 

When those who love the NIV get riled up about the inclusiveness of the TNIV, they are ignoring the logs in their own eyes.  Though our favorite translations often say more about our politics than our faith, it's fairly clear that all of us -- left and right alike -- are guilty of attempting to use Scripture to support our own social agendas.  None of us -- particularly those of us who can't read the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek -- can say we "know" what Bible "really" says.  It would behoove all of us to stop our "proof-texting" (quoting Scripture out of context) and stop dropping in misleading subject headings and encourage better understanding of the original languages.

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Caleb McDaniel - 2/22/2005

Mark Goodacre has a post about the TNIV up here. Apparently publishers are planning to market both TNIV and NIV together, sort of like Coke and New Coke.

Richard Henry Morgan - 2/21/2005

If I remember correctly, the editors of the NRSV give themselves a certain latitude, and admit as much. One example is from the Old Testament, where it preceeded the invention of coin, the translators have a section where they translate what should be 'silver' as 'coin'. I prefer the straight translation, with a note on the historical context.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/21/2005

Let us always remember to celebrate integrity, in any context.

Hugo Schwyzer - 2/21/2005

I'm delighted to hear it; this may be a good sign indeed.

Anthony Paul Smith - 2/21/2005

It's funny, because Olivet Nazarene University (or Nazi-rene Pent. as some folks called it) all the Bible profs made us buy NRSV for class. They all were, in some way, to the right on the political spectrum but they also all agreed that the NRSV was just a better translation, closer to the meaning of the text.